Roger Zelazny

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Roger Joseph Zelazny (13 May 193714 June 1995) was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels. He won the Nebula award three times, with 14 nominations, and the Hugo award six times, also with 14 nominations, including two Hugos for novels: the serialized novel ...And Call Me Conrad (1965; subsequently published under the title This Immortal, 1966) and the novel Lord of Light (1967).

See also:
The Chronicles of Amber
Lord of Light


At the end of the season of sorrows comes the time of rejoicing. Spring, like a well-oiled clock, noiselessly indicates this time.
Yeah, the mythology is kind of a pattern. I'm very taken by mythology.
The material I work with is what is classified as science fiction and fantasy, and I really don't think about these things when I'm writing.
It is no shame to lose to me, mortal. Even among mythical creatures there are very few who can give a unicorn a good game.
  • At the end of the season of sorrows comes the time of rejoicing. Spring, like a well-oiled clock, noiselessly indicates this time.
    • First lines of Zelazny's first published short story, Passion Play (1962)
  • Occasionally, there arises a writing situation where you see an alternative to what you are doing, a mad, wild gamble of a way for handling something, which may leave you looking stupid, ridiculous or brilliant — you just don't know which. You can play it safe there, too, and proceed along the route you'd mapped out for yourself. Or you can trust your personal demon who delivered that crazy idea in the first place.
    Trust your demon.
    • Introduction to Passion Play (1962)
  • Two days like icebergs—bleak, blank, half-melting, all frigid, mainly out of sight, and definitely a threat to peace of mind—drifted by and were good to put behind.
    • The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth (1965)
  • Of all the things a man may do, sleep probably contributes most to keeping him sane. It puts brackets about each day. If you do something foolish or painful today, you get irritated if somebody mentions it, today. If it happened yesterday, though, you can nod or chuckle, as the case may be. You've crossed through nothingness or dream to another island in Time.
  • Dwelling beside a body of water is tonic for the weary psyche. Sea smells, sea birds, seawrack, sands — alternately cool, warm, moist and dry — a taste of brine and the presence of the rocking, slopping bluegraygreen spit-flecked waters, has the effect of rinsing the emotions, bathing the outlook, bleaching the conscience.
    • Isle of the Dead (1969)
  • Nick swore he'd die with this boots on, on some exotic safari, but he found his Kilimanjaro in a hospital on Earth, where they'd cured everything that was bothering him, except for the galloping pneumonia he'd picked up in the hospital. That had been, roughly, two hundred and fifty years ago. I'd been a pallbearer.
    • Isle of the Dead
  • The dead are too much with us.
    • Isle of the Dead (1969)
  • "Could Yarl the Omnipotent create a stone so heavy he couldn't lift it?" asked Green Green.
    "No," replied Courtcour.
    "Why not?"
    "He wouldn't."
    "That's no answer."
    "Yes, it is. Think about it. Would you?"
    • Isle of the Dead (1969)
  • I watched the spinning stars, grateful, sad and proud, as only a man who has outlived his destiny and realizes he might yet forge himself another, can be.
    • Isle of the Dead (1969)
  • Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.
  • Yeah, the mythology is kind of a pattern. I'm very taken by mythology. I read it at a very early age and kept on reading it. Before I discovered science fiction I was reading mythology. And from that I got interested in comparative religion and folklore and related subjects. And when I began writing, it was just a fertile area I could use in my stories.
    I was saying at the convention in Melbourne that after a time I got typed as a writer of mythological science fiction, and at a convention I'd go to I'd invariably wind up on a panel with the title "Mythology and Science Fiction". I felt a little badly about this, I was getting considered as exclusively that sort of writer. So I intentionally tried to break away from it with things like Doorways in the Sand and those detective stories which came out in the book My Name Is Legion, and other things where I tried to keep the science more central.
    But I do find the mythological things are creeping in. I worked out a book which I thought was just straight science fiction -- with everything pretty much explained, and suddenly I got an idea which I thought was kind of neat for working in a mythological angle. I'm really struggling with myself. It would probably be a better book if I include it, but on the other hand I don't always like to keep reverting to it. I think what I'm going to do is vary my output, do some straight science fiction and some straight fantasy that doesn't involve mythology, and composites.
  • I see myself as a novelist, period. I mean, the material I work with is what is classified as science fiction and fantasy, and I really don't think about these things when I'm writing. I'm just thinking about telling a story and developing my characters.
    • "A Conversation With Roger Zelazny" (8 April 1978), talking with Terry Dowling and Keith Curtis in Science Fiction Vol. 1, #2 (June 1978)
  • Good-bye, and hello, as always.
    • The Courts of Chaos (1978)
  • All of these things considered, it is not surprising that one can detect echoes, correspondences and even an eternal return or two within the work of a single author. The passage of time does bring changes, yea and alas; but still, I would recognize myself anywhere.
  • A bizarrerie of fires, cunabulum of light, it moved with a deft, almost dainty deliberation, phasing into and out of existence like a storm-shot piece of evening; or perhaps the darkness between the flares was more akin to its truest nature — swirl of black ashes assembled in prancing cadence to the lowing note of desert wind down the arroyo behind buildings as empty yet filled as the pages of unread books or stillnesses between the notes of a song.
    • Unicorn Variation (1982)
  • "It is no shame to lose to me, mortal. Even among mythical creatures there are very few who can give a unicorn a good game."
    "I am pleased that you were not wholly bored," Martin said. "Now will you tell me what you were talking about concerning the destruction of my species?"
    "Oh, that," Tlingel replied.
    • Unicorn Variation (1982)
  • Every now and then it's nice to stop and just look over what you've been writing and the way you've been writing it and sort of reassess it, and see if you've fallen into bad habits or there's something you'd like to get better at. One way of reexamining your own work is to work with somebody else. It's a learning experience. I don't want to get into a rut.
  • I got the idea for that story in May of 1979. I didn't know what it was going to be; I just thought it would be neat to write something about Jack the Ripper's dog, and ask Gahan Wilson to illustrate it, partly because of the fact that a dog is such an unusual person. No matter who owns a dog, if that person is nice to the animal, the dog is going to love him. I thought at the time, if you take a really despicable person, a serial killer or someone like that, and tell a story from his dog's point of view it would make him look pretty good.
  • Oh, I don't know — that's a hell of a question — I don't tend to look at my stuff that way. I just look at it a book at a time. Something like the Amber books are in a different class. I try not to anticipate. I don't know what I'll be writing a few years from now. I have some ideas — I have lots of different things I want to try. I almost don't really care what history thinks. I like the way I'm being treated right now.
    • On how he would like to be remembered (1994)

He Who Shapes (1965)[edit]

You don’t know what it’s like to be cut off from a whole area of stimuli! To know that a Mongoloid idiot can experience something you can never know…
Between the black of yesterday and the white of tomorrow is the great gray of today, filled with nostalgia and fear of the future.
The novella He Who Shapes (1965) was subsequently expanded into the novel The Dream Master (1966)
  • "I sank Atlantis," he said, "personally. It was about three years ago. And God! it was lovely! It was all ivory towers and golden minarets and silver balconies. There were bridges of opal, and crimson pennants and a milk-white river flowing between lemon-colored banks. There were jade steeples, and trees as old as the world tickling the bellies of clouds, and ships in the great sea-harbor of Xanadu, as delicately constructed as musical instruments, all swaying with the tides. The twelve princes of the realm held court in the dozen-pillared Coliseum of the Zodiac, to listen to a Greek tenor sax play at sunset."
  • You don’t know what it’s like to be cut off from a whole area of stimuli! To know that a Mongoloid idiot can experience something you can never know — and that he cannot appreciate it because, like you, he was condemned before birth in a court of biological happenstance, in a place where there is no justice — only fortuity, pure and simple.
  • The universe did not invent justice. Man did. Unfortunately, man must reside in the universe.
  • The fact remains that you would be dealing, and dealing constantly, with the abnormal. The power of a neurosis is unimaginable to ninety-nine point et cetera percent of the population, because we can never adequately judge the intensity of our own — let alone those of others, when we only see them from the outside. That is why no neuroparticipant will ever undertake to treat a full­blown psychotic. The few pioneers in that area are all themselves in therapy today. It would be like driving into a maelstrom. If the therapist loses the upper hand in an intense session he becomes the Shaped rather than the Shaper. The synapses respond like a fission reaction when ner­vous impulses are artificially augmented. The transference effect is almost instantaneous.
  • The power to hurt... has evolved in a direct relationship to technological advancement.
  • Between the black of yesterday and the white of tomorrow is the great gray of today, filled with nostalgia and fear of the future.
  • He flowed. Away from all the rooms of the world. Away from the stifling lack of intensity, from the day’s hundred spoon-fed welfares, from the killing pace of forced amusements that hacked at the Hydra, leisure; away.
    And as he fled down the run he felt a strong desire to look back over his shoulder, as though to see whether the world he had left behind and above had set one fearsome embodiment of itself, like a shadow, to trail along after him, hunt him down, and to drag hem back to a warm and well-it coffin in the sky, there to be laid to rest with a spike of aluminum driven through his will and a garland of alternating currents smothering his spirit.
  • “Beware,” she recited a personal beatitude, “those who hunger and thirst after justice, for we will be satisfied.”
    “And beware the meek,” she continued, “for we shall attempt to inherit the Earth.”

This Immortal (1965)[edit]

The absence of a monument can, in its own way, be something of a monument also.
First published abridged in two parts as ...And Call Me Conrad in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in October and November 1965; later published in book form as This Immortal in 1966. There are no chapters in this book. All page numbers here are from the hardcover edition published in the Garland Library of Science Fiction by Ace Books
  • I've always been impulsive. My thinking is usually pretty good, but I always seem to do it after I do my talking—by which time I've generally destroyed all basis for further conversation.
    • pp. 9-10
  • I wasn’t disappointed, inasmuch as I expected nothing.
    • p. 29
  • The absence of a monument can, in its own way, be something of a monument also.
    • p. 60
  • Be warned, therefore, that one does not go to hell to light a cigarette.
    • p. 83
  • “Nothing we did in those days has caused a change.”
    “Because of what we did, things remained as they were, rather than getting worse,” I told him.
    • p. 131
  • My mind spun for a second before it drifted, and in that second I knew that of all pleasures—a drink of cold water when you are thirsty, liquor when you are not, sex, a cigarette after many days without one—there is none of them can compare with sleep. Sleep is best....
    • p. 169

Home is the Hangman (1975)[edit]

This novella won both the 1976 Hugo Award and the 1976 Nebula Award
  • On the water, aboard the Proteus, the crowding, the activities, the tempo, of life in the cities, on the land, are muted, slowed—fictionalized—by the metaphysical distancing a few meters of water can provide. We alter the landscape with great facility, but the ocean has always seemed unchanged, and I suppose by extension we are infected with some feelings of timelessness whenever we set out upon her.
  • I decided that the devil finds work for idle hands and thanked him for his suggestion.
  • “Cute,” she said, smiling. “If the liberal arts do nothing else they provide engaging metaphors for the thinking they displace.”
  • Times have changed since the Good Book was written, and you can’t hold with a purely Fundamentalist approach in complex times.
  • I had troubles of my own, and even the most heartening of philosophical vistas is no match for, say, a toothache, if it happens to be your own.
  • The function of criticism should not be confused with the function of reform.

A Night in the Lonesome October (1993)[edit]

Nominated for the 1994 Nebula Award
The chapters in this book are designated by the days of October
All page numbers here are from the mass market edition published by AvoNova
  • “Why do you tell me this?”
    “Perhaps because I am a cat and it amuses me to be arbitrary and do you a good turn.”
    • October 2 (p. 9)
  • Never trust a cat, anyway. All they’re good for is stringing tennis racquets.
    • October 6 (p. 28)
  • I thought about the Elder Gods and wondered at how they might change things if the way were opened for their return. The world could be a good place or a nasty place without supernatural intervention; we had worked out our own way of doing things, defined our own goods and evils. Some gods were great for individual ideals to be aimed at, rather than actual ends to be sought, here and now. As for the Elders, I could see no profit in intercourse with those who transcend utterly. I like to keep all such things in abstract, Platonic realms and not have to concern myself with physical presences.
    • October 21 (pp. 138-139)
  • It is a city of neat cottages and cobbled streets where wander cats without number, for the enlightened legislators of long ago laid down laws for our protection. A good, kind village, where travelers take their ease and pet the cats, making much of them, which is as it should be.
    • October 22 (p. 160)
  • “When you talk about being an ‘anticipator,’ of having a pretty good idea of when something’s going to happen—or how, or who will be there—isn’t that a kind of divination?”
    “No. I think it’s more a kind of subconscious knack for dealing with statistics, against a fairly well-known field of actions.”
    • October 23 (p. 173)

Phlogiston interview (1995)[edit]

After a while the business end of writing takes too much of the writing time. Better to pay someone ten percent and find that you're still more than ten percent ahead in the end.
My favorite form is the short story. From an aesthetics stand point you really have to pare down to the bone. You can't write a throw-away scene.
An Interview with Roger Zelazny a few months before his death, by Alex Heatley in Phlogiston Forty Four (1995)
  • Well, I decided that as a teenager that I really didn't know enough to describe character well and I was wasting my time. I'd learned as much as I could about story telling techniques and it wasn't a matter of technique any more. It was a matter of substance. As a result I said I was going to wait until I was a lot older and had more experience. So it was that after I got out of college I'd been away from SF for about four years. I'd read SF steadily from when I was eleven until I started college. When I started college I said, "I'm not going to read that while I'm here, I'm going to learn poetry and other things of that sort" in fact I wrote a lot of poetry then.
  • I'd had a long talk with Bob Silverberg, who was very influential on my early career. He'd, out of the kindness of his heart, at a convention told me that he thought I'd made several mistakes in the way I was disposing of my stories. And I said, "I don't understand what you mean, but I'll be glad to buy you a few drinks, if you'll tell me about it". So we adjourned to the bar and sat there a couple of hours. He was drinking Bloody Marys back then; I was drinking Black Russians. And he told me all sorts of things which carried me over the next several years; it was a lot of information for a couple of drinks. He told me that the first thing I should do if I wanted to write full-time was to get a really good agent. He said that after a while the business end of writing takes too much of the writing time. Better to pay someone ten percent and find that you're still more than ten percent ahead in the end.
    Which is true. My present agent says that he always feels that a good agent during the course of a year should earn back for his client at least the ten percent he takes by way of commission, so the client's really nothing out. And what he should ideally do is make him more money than the ten percent.
  • I try to write every day. I used to try to write four times a day, minimum of three sentences each time. It doesn't sound like much but it's kinda like the hare and the tortoise. If you try that several times a day you're going to do more than three sentences, one of them is going to catch on. You're going to say "Oh boy!" and then you just write. You fill up the page and the next page. But you have a certain minimum so that at the end of the day, you can say "Hey I wrote four times today, three sentences, a dozen sentences. Each sentence is maybe twenty word long. That's 240 words which is a page of copy, so at least I didn't goof off completely today. I got a page for my efforts and tomorrow it might be easier because I've moved as far as I have".
  • When I started writing my first novel, ...And Call Me Conrad, they always say: "Write about what you know" and I said "Well, if I get a nice sort of combination SF and Fantasy with these resonances from Greek Mythology it might be pretty good. It would also give me a chance to start filling in my background on all those things I don't know much about but should if I want to be an SF writer."
    So I sat down and made a list of everything I felt I should know more about. Astrophysics, oceanography, marine biology, genetics... Then when I'd finished the list I read one book in each of these areas. When I'd finished I went back and read a second book until I'd read ten books in each area. I thought that it wouldn't turn me into a terrific, fantastic expert but I'd at least have enough material there to know if I was saying something wrong. And I'd also know where to turn to get the information I want to make it right.
    While I was doing this, to keep the words and cheques flowing I wrote books involving mythology. And once I started picking up things involving astrophysics I'd write stories that played with those sorts of things. So that's why I started out with mythology.
  • My favorite form is the short story. From an aesthetics stand point you really have to pare down to the bone. You can't write a throw-away scene.

Quotes about Zelazny[edit]

Listed alphabetically by author
  • The work ... abounds in literary, historical and mythological allusions. The sensitivities revealed are far-ranging, capable of fine psychological and sociological analysis, and are as responsive to the contemporary as to the traditional... There is no other writer who, dealing with the struggle between life and death on such a fantastically rarefied level can evoke so much hunger for the stuff of living itself.
    • Chip Delany taking about Zelazny in his book, "The Jewel-hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction" (1977)
  • His stories are sunk to the knees in maturity and wisdom, in bravura writing that breaks rules most writers only suspect exist. His concepts are fresh, his attacks bold, his resolutions generally trenchant. Thus leading us inexorably to the conclusion that Roger Zelazny is the reincarnation of Geoffrey Chaucer.
He was a poet, first, last, always. His words sang.
  • Zelazny, telling of gods and wizards, uses magical words as if he himself were a wizard. He reaches into the subconscious and invokes archetypes to make the hair rise on the back of your neck. Yet these archetypes are transmuted into a science fictional world that is as believable — and as awe-inspiring — as the world you now live in.
    • Philip José Farmer, in a promotional blurb for The Last Defender of Camelot‎ (1980) by Roger Zelazny
  • Roger Zelazny died as I completed the first chapter of The Wake and his memorial informed the second chapter.
  • For absent friends — Kathy Acker and Roger Zelazny, and all points between.
  • Zelazny likes to develop different systems of magic, but his emphasis is on systems. He feels the magic should be worked out and contain no contradictions. It should run more like science and not be too supernatural in which anything goes. That route leads to magic being a crutch to move the plot along. He also likes to use the mystery plot. He feels that there is an elegance to having a puzzle overlaid on a fantasy or SF novel. The mystery helps build the mythic elements in fantasy, but is also akin to the process of discovery in science.
  • Sadly, at least two wonderful "untold tales" of the Sleeper were lost when Roger Zelazny passed away. I know that Roger had always intended to bring back Croyd's boyhood friend Joey Sarzanno, and tell the story of the crystallized woman that Croyd kept in his closet. But he never had the chance, and now he never will. Croyd will continue to be a part of Wild Cards — Roger deliberately crafted the character so he would be easy for the other writers to use, and always delighted in seeing what we did with him — but it would take an unusual amount of hubris for any of us to attempt to write either of those two stories, and it is not something I would encourage. They were Roger's stories. No one else could do 'em justice.

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